Pho’nomenal Soup

It’s been warm in North Carolina for several weeks, but recently the trees, flowers, and fauna have agreed to come alive and welcome Spring. The collective attitude of this area, the state, probably most of the country is lightened and optimistic, and everything seems fun and exciting. It’s almost hard to sit at home when you see the bright blue skies out of your window and know full well that the sun is warm and the breeze is light and soothing. I’m endlessly thankful that blending into life in Durham has been fluid and inspiring. It’s not without effort that I’ve made this community home, but the effort is easy to succumb when the opportunities are so prevalent. Durham shares features of Chicago that I loved, the primary being that it becomes so vibrant and positive in the warm weather. Everywhere it seems people are out, active, and socializing. Every restaurant and brewery offers the option to dine in the open air, and the myriad trails winding through this area are overflowing with people. It’s so fun to be happy and warm.

The above paragraph does not segue appropriately into the recipe at all. Rather, I’m blogging because I think I’ve exhausted my outdoor experiences for the weekend, and since the sun is setting, I find myself anxious for something new to do besides read quietly or numb to TV. So I’ll use this blog post as a way to believe I’m talking to someone since my dogs insist on napping and not engaging with me at all.

I want to call this recipe pho, because it is, I presume. However, I hesitate to comment on a culinary genre so profoundly outside of my personal experience and, in doing so, cheapen the years of creativity and influence that eventually inspired what is now appreciated as pho. It seems that in becoming a trendy- or at least well-known- food, there are of course a variety of manipulations that may stray egregiously from the original source. But I’ll attempt to throw my recipe into the forum, not to promise authenticity, but to encourage expansion of this beautiful and flavorful dish into even the most benign kitchens. This is truly one of the most straightforward meals I’ve made, with such outrageously delicious results. The ratio of effort to pay-off is trending towards infinity. So I call this soup, with a heavily obvious pun- pho’nomenal-  because it is phenomenal and it, for lack of a better descriptor, is pho!

Vegetarian Pho

Serves 2

(Inspired by this recipe)

Broth

  • 1 onion, cut in half
  • 1 large knob of ginger, cut in half
  • 2 stalks lemongrass
  • 3 cardamom pods
  • 1 tbsp whole coriander
  • 1 tbsp fennel seeds
  • 1 tbsp peppercorns
  • 1 tsp whole cloves
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 2 tsp salt

Mix-ins

  • 1/2 block tofu, diced into 0.5 inch cubes
  • 1 tbsp. canola, sunflower, safflower, or other high-heat oil
  • 2 bunches bok choy
  • 1 jalapeno, sliced
  • 3-5 oz enoki (or other interesting) mushrooms
  • 3 oz rice noodles, prepared according to package directions

Sriracha and soy sauce to serve

To prepare the broth, halve the onion and ginger and place in the broiler. Broil until a dark golden color but not quite burnt. Flip and broil the opposite side. Watch carefully- this takes 2-3 minutes per side.

In a large stock pot, add the broiled onion and ginger, lemongrass, and whole spices. (Buyer’s note: I purchased all of these spices from the bulk bin at whole foods for approximately 25 cents… some were so light they were free! So don’t be discouraged by a long list of potentially expenses cabinet-dwellers… just buy what you need!). Add 6 cups of water to the pot and bring the mixture to a boil. Once boiling, reduce the heat to low and simmer for about 90 minutes. I actually prepared the broth entirely ahead of time, cooled it, and stored prior to reheating when I was ready with the mix-ins the following night. But, alternately, prepare mix-ins while the broth is simmering. Once an appropriate amount of time has elapsed, strain the broth. It should be a deep, rich brown color. If needed, add a bit more salt.

Prepare the tofu by cubing, tossing with oil, and placing in the broiler for 5 minutes. Toss and continue to broil for 5-7 minutes longer, until lightly browned and crisped on the edges. While the tofu is cooking, prepare the rice noodles. Most packages ask for them to be added to boiling water then sit, covered, for about 10 minutes. Add the bok choy, mushrooms, and sliced jalapenos to the bowls. Once the tofu is done, add that as well. Top with the rice noodles.

To serve this in a pretty way, present the bowls with mix-ins then pour the steaming broth over the top. (My photos look a little low on broth, and that’s because I split it into 3 servings so I could get more food out of it [still living cheap], but this would be more substantial/ characteristic of massive pho bowls just split into 2 servings). Top with as much sriracha as you dare, as well as a splash of soy sauce. Serve with large spoon and chopsticks!

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Hello, and Risotto Primavera

I seem to have entirely neglected, if not per perception left entirely, this website. And, truly, the perception was my own, as I had decided, in moderate intention, to stop posting and let my recipes slowly fade into the infinity of the Cloud. But as everyone in my life knows, I finally moved from Chicago to North Carolina. Durham, more specifically. And in leaving, I was interested again in keeping this up, bolstered as well by the encouragement of several friends. So the blog will be resurrected from its really-dusty-kitchen, dishes-haven’t-been-done-in-weeks level disregard. And it seems I’ll need to change my subtitle.

I was told from some people that possibly this should no longer be titled “Dinner for Brian,” as the motivation for the title originally- that I was posting recipes in Chicago for my brother to try at home- is now less substantiated. If I want, I can go see Brian on any weeknight, make him dinner (or go out together), and receive immediate feedback. The internet no longer is a necessary medium. But, if I’m being honest, I mostly like the idea of cooking for a tangible (if now much more available) person. Yes, I usually eat alone. And yes, these recipes are often to serve my palate more than my lovely ginger brother’s. But I do take credit for expanding significantly his culinary horizons, and it’s still with his review in mind that I write. (Not to diminish the influences of my other brothers, who are easily as important and definitely more interesting than I am).

The real reason I’m posting tonight, as opposed to a lazy Sunday (my usual date), is because romanesco broccoli was on sale at Whole Foods today, and it looks so super cool, and I wanted to use it. And then, in doing so, I was thinking that everyone I know needs to cook with romanesco broccoli- mostly for the fun shape- and I must provide a recipe. Also, this is really, very delicious, and it is also incredibly easy to put together. I had never made risotto with actual arborio rice before, always favoring risotto from barley (also, where would I find arborio rice?). But in an attempt to have really quite pretty jars full of grains to hide in my cabinets (in the ideal of someday having this beautiful kitchen with open and exposed shelving), I bought a bunch of grains from my neighborhood co-op, and at that time I found arborio rice sneaking among the quinoa. I determined it must be tried.

Well, this has been a lengthy composition… Here’s the recipe.

Risotto Primavera

Serves 2

2 cups chicken or vegetable stock

1/2 cup arborio rice

1/2 tbsp. butter

1/2 white onion, diced finely

2 carrots, sliced thinly

1 head romanesco broccoli, chopped into small florets

1/3 cup frozen peas

1/3 cup frozen corn

1/4 cup shredded or grated Parmesan

Salt & pepper

Basil, sliced, to serve

Heat the stock in a small quart pan until just boiling. Lower to low heat and keep warm.

In a larger pot, melt the butter over medium heat. Add the onions and carrots and sauté until softened, about 5 minutes. Add the arborio rice and mix. Add the broccoli. Season lightly. Add 2-3 ladle-fulls of stock to the pan (it will simmer and deglaze slightly). Stir and stir until the rice has absorbed most of the stock. (It’s not ridiculous, you can take breaks from stirring; just don’t leave it for a long period of time). Add another ladle or two of stock. Stir. Repeat this process until the rice is soft and cooked through, about 15-20 minutes. You may not use all of your stock. Once the rice is cooked and most of the stock is absorbed, add the peas, corn, and Parmesan. Stir to combine well. Taste and season again.

Serve and top with fresh basil. Admire the pretty broccoli. And eat!

Spicy Shrimp with Fried Plantains and Mango Avocado Salsa

I left August 29, and I’ve finally returned. I’ve seen Kenya- the Masai Mara, Nairobi, Mombasa, Diani Beach- hiked in New Hampshire and dined in Boston, battled sandflies in Michigan, worked in Atlanta, celebrated weddings in North Carolina, biked Orange County, waved at seals in La Jolla, and shopped in Los Angeles. Two months, and more travel than I could possibly squeeze into a (relatively) functioning work schedule, and I wait on the edge of my seat to finally settle down and relax in Chicago. It’s the right moment, see, because while the dog days of summer and picturesque, perfect days of early fall are tantalizingly beautiful along the Chicago lakefront, they are also days of activity and adventure. You can’t slow down; I won’t slow down; not until the leaves fall. So here it is, the first day I could smell the crispness to the air, the undefinable quality that forebodes the dropping temperatures and the consequently required heavy jackets. After four years in and outside this city, it feels almost comforting to notice this change. While Chicago thrives in the summer, at its heart, it is a winter city. Many may argue against that, but genuinely, those who live here endure and make magic of these (truly) 8 months of cold weather. So much so, that it only feels right, somewhat like a homecoming, to be back among the chilly air and more brusque breezes. No one will admit to liking it; far from it. I’d rather perpetual September and October for the rest of time. But it is calming, to be on this side of things. I’m ready to slow down, embrace it, and warm up by the artificial dry heat of my antiquated radiators. This is made significantly better by a pumpkin-clove candle from Anthropologie, which is the best smelling thing to ever enter my apartment. All I need now is the return of my dachshunds.

I had intended on sharing a recipe for sweet potato ramen in a curried broth, which was excellent, innovative, and aesthetic. But, somehow, I threw out the recipe. Usually I remember a recipe well enough, but I can’t be certain in this one, and it’s worth doing right. I’ll have to repeat the process (possibly not burn my hands on the soft boiled egg next time), and share in the coming months. What I’m sharing today is, quite obviously, a remnant from my weeks doing Whole 30. The biggest problem with Whole 30 is going to Kenya immediately afterward and forgetting all of it. Problem? Maybe that’s the best thing to do. Regardless, I did eat well during that challenge, from a health and flavor standpoint, and some recipes bear posting, even outside of my current dietary restraints (of which I have none). So, without further ado, a very delicious, albeit distinctly summery, dinner.

shrimp and plantains

Spicy Shrimp with Fried Plantains and Mango Avocado Salsa

Serves 4

  • 1 lb large raw shrimp, peeled and deveined, tossed in the juice of 1 lemon
  • 1 tbsp. coconut oil
  • 1/4 tsp smoked paprika
  • 1/4 tsp red pepper flake
  • 1/8 tsp cayenne
  • 2 plantains, peeled and sliced
  • 2 tbsp. ghee
  • 2 avocado, diced
  • 2 mango, diced
  • 1 shallot, minced
  • 1 lemon, juiced
  • Salt & pepper

In a mixing bowl, toss together the avocado, mango, shallot, and lemon juice, and season with salt and pepper.

In a large sauté pan, heat the coconut oil over medium heat. Add the shrimp and season with the spices above. Turn after 2-3 minutes, once the bottom side is appearing lightly pink and opaque. Cook another 2-3 minutes and remove from the pan.

In the same sauté pan, add 2 tbsp ghee over medium high heat. Add the plantains and toast for 2-4 minutes, until golden brown. Flip and cooked the alternative side. Season with salt and pepper. Remove from the pan.

Plate the shrimp and plantains with a side of the mango avocado salsa. Enjoy!

Balsamic Roasted Chicken Thighs with Caramelized Onions and Figs

I’m back from a weekend camping at the Dunes in Indiana, which was a lovely way to start to ease out of summer. We hiked up through mountains of sand, sliding backwards, dogs trailing behind. We somehow couldn’t really keep a fire going, but it was lively long enough to roast hot dogs and make breakfast in the morning. I might not have slept at all on a pile of blankets in the tent, but having returned, I think I’m refreshed all the same. Or, at least my dachshunds are really, really worn out. I’d love to know how many miniature leg steps they logged on that 4 mile dunes walk. There’s probably an interesting niche market for dog pedometers.

While camping, I cooked eggs in a sauté pan over the fire. I sat the pan on a set of logs, probably a bit unstably, but successfully made breakfast all the same. I’m thinking I need a cast-iron skillet camp set for next time, as the bottom of my eggs got a bit burned before it was cooked through. Someday I will be an expert camper. Until then, I use my skillet at home.

This dinner is delicious, easy, and truly different than most things I make. Figs are in season, and I love them, so I bought a large flat a week or so ago. I’d been snacking on them, dipping them in almond butter, but roasting them was another method I hadn’t tried. Chicken thighs, I think, are the best partner for the figs, as they are deeply flavorful and tender. And caramelized onions just always belong. I served this atop a green salad with some mashed potatoes, but any way would be fine. Maybe I am a bit tired… I can’t seem to think of much else to say. Just, make dinner, ok?

Balsamic Roasted Chicken Thighs with Caramelized Onions and Figs

Serves 4-6

1-2 lbs boneless, skinless chicken thighs

2 tbsp. balsamic vinegar

4 tbsp. olive oil, divided

2 yellow onions, sliced into half-moons

8-10 fresh black figs, quartered

Salt & pepper, to taste

Prepare the marinade for the chicken by mixing 2 tbsp. olive oil with the balsamic vinegar, salt, and pepper. Coat the chicken in the marinade, flipping to coat. Marinate at least 4 hours, or overnight.

When prepared to cook, preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Add 2 tbsp. olive oil to a cast-iron skillet set over medium-low heat. Caramelize the onions, slowly, stirring occasionally. They will slowly brown and soften in about 20-30 minutes. Once they’ve caramelized, remove the onions from the pan. Increase the heat to medium-high and add the chicken thighs. Sauté for 3-4 minutes until browned, then flip. Once flipped, add the caramelized onions to the pan, lying over the chicken. Add the figs.

Put the cast-iron skillet into the oven and bake for 25 minutes, or until the thighs are cooked through. Remove from the oven and serve.

Greek Chicken Plate with Garlic Cauliflower Rice and Coconut Tzatziki

This is the best meal I have eaten in weeks. Months? Years? It’s hard to know for sure, but I do know that this recipe is absolutely delicious. I was craving Greek food intensely, but being halfway through whole 30, hummus and feta cheese and creamy sauces are still totally off limits, making me believe this craving would have to wait. But I conspired a bit with the ingredients in my fridge and decided this could be done. And I didn’t miss the hummus, or the feta, or the creamy sauces at all! Well, perhaps because I made a pseudo-tzatziki with coconut milk, and mimicked the grains with cauliflower rice, but seriously, it all works as well as any Greek restaurant meal.

I also, after eating this dinner, went out to run a few hours later, in the 80 degree evening after sunset, and ran faster and stronger than I have in weeks, months? I’m not sure if it’s the three months of training finally catching up and working, or the past two weeks of really prioritizing nutrition and sleep, or maybe… the chicken!? Ha, probably not the chicken. But just maybe it is, indeed, magic.

This recipe seems elaborate, with multiple components and ingredients; however, it truly is a 30-minute meal (not a-la-Rachel Ray) and comes together easily. I’ll emphasize that I do multi-task like a pro in the kitchen, but I’d wager that anyone can whip this up easily on a weeknight. There’s a few hours of hands-off time to marinate the chicken, but that’s as labor unintensive as can be.

If you’re following whole 30, or just really into Greek food, please make this. And, if you’d rather, you could always replace the cauliflower with rice or cous cous, but you definitely don’t need to and should give this version a try.

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Greek Chicken Plate with Garlic Cauliflower Rice and Coconut Tzatziki

Serves 2-4

1-2 lbs boneless, skinless chicken breasts

Greek Chicken Marinade

  • 1 1/2 small lemons (or 1 large), juiced
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 tsp oregano
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • Freshly cracked black pepper

1 large head of cauliflower, finely chopped

4 cloves of garlic, minced

1 tsp oregano

3 tbsp olive oil, divided

1 yellow onion, sliced finely into half-moons

2-4 vine-ripened tomatoes, sliced

Salt and pepper, to taste

Coconut Tzatziki

  • 1/4 cup coconut cream, cooled (cooling after whisked and stored in a small container allows the cream to thicken to a consistency nearer a thin yogurt)
  • 1/2 lemon, juiced
  • 1/2 large cucumber, diced
  • 2 green onion sprigs, diced
  • 1/4 tsp smoked paprika
  • Salt and pepper, to taste

Start by mixing together all marinade ingredients in a large dish. Add the chicken, turning a few times to coat. Refrigerate the chicken in the marinade for at least 4 hours, or overnight.

When ready to eat, preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Heat a cast iron skillet or oven-safe pan over medium-high heat. Add the chicken and brown for 4-5 minutes on one side, then flip. Cook on the reverse side for 1 minute, then move the pan to the oven and bake the chicken for 10-15 minutes (it will depend on the size of the breasts; I find 0.5 lb breasts to take 12 minutes, but you can check with a meat thermometer or cut into the chicken to verify its cooked through).

While cooking the chicken, split the head of cauliflower into quarters, then cut the leaves and stems from the head, cutting at an angle underside the cauliflower head. Break the quarters into florets then pulse in a food processor until the cauliflower is the consistency of small grains (I had to do this in 4 smaller batches). Mince the garlic and add to the cauliflower mixture. In a large, deep skillet, heat 2 tbsp olive oil over medium heat. Add the garlic-cauliflower mixture as well as oregano, salt, and pepper to taste. Cook for 2-3 minutes then lower the heat to medium-low, cover, and cook for an additional 5-8 minutes, until the cauliflower is softened somewhat.

While the cauliflower is cooking, mix together the coconut cream, lemon juice, cucumber, green onion, and spices in a small bowl and set aside.

Remove the chicken from the oven and allow to rest for 5-10 minutes.

Remove the cauliflower rice from the pan and plate. Add 1 tbsp olive oil to that pan and add the diced onion with a bit of salt and pepper. Sauté briefly, about 2-3 minutes, over medium-high heat, just until the onion is translucent.

Add the onion next to the plated cauliflower rice. Slice the tomatoes and align beside the onions. Slice the rested chicken and plate atop the rice and veggies. Spoon the coconut tzatziki over the chicken. Serve!

Take big bites with all ingredients on one forkful. Then slow down and savor each flavor. Enjoy!

Ginger Apple Kale Salad

It’s funny to me that one of my more recent recipes on this blog is for kale salad, and that I’m posting about it again today, because I’ve had it exactly one other time since December, and it kind of ruined it for me until… today, really. It might have had a bit to do with being somewhat hungover, and having an idiotic yet strong craving for a cold kale salad with lentils and lemon vinaigrette, which is quite possibly the most absurd “craving” and subsequent hungover meal I’ve had. About halfway through I succumbed to overwhelming nausea, pushed away my plate, and vowed that kale should be cooked, always. I both remember enjoying kale salads and being nauseated by them, so I waffled on whether this idea for a ginger-spiced kale salad, sort of autumnal in quality, would be a point for delicious or never-ever-again.

Thankfully, it turns out it was delicious! As I mentioned in my last post, I’m one week into whole 30, so this salad meets those restrictions. I probably owe a bit of justification for following this trendy plan for a month, and to do so I’ll say I’m much more interested in the psychological motivation of whole 30 than the dietary changes. I’ve never had issues with food in the past, but I do understand the willingness to try to change food behavior, and for that, I complete this experiment. If I do end up “feeling” differently on this diet, then, I suppose, I’ll have to decide what that means. For now, though, I’m doing what I can to still eat as much delicious food as possible. Even if it’s mostly veggies.

The biggest drawback to whole 30, to me, (besides no bread) is how meat-centric meals can become. As most of my meals are vegetarian, I sometimes just grow tired of eating meat. It’s just a little too much, occasionally. This salad follows a day of turkey bacon and taco salad, and I was more than ready for something lighter and crisp. And, if I’m getting points for appeasing people, this salad is actually raw, vegan, vegetarian, gluten-free, grain-free, paleo, and whole 30 approved. Everyone can eat it! Except maybe some people on Coumadin… Ha.

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Ginger Apple Kale Salad

Serves 2 as a meal, 4 as a side

1 large bunch kale, sliced into ribbons

2 apples (I used Gala), diced

1/4 cup roasted pecans

Ginger Apple Vinaigrette

  • 1 lemon, juiced
  • 2 tbsp. apple juice or cider
  • 1 tbsp. apple cider vinegar
  • 3 tbsp. olive oil
  • 1/2 in. knob of ginger, peeled and finely grated
  • Dash of cinnamon
  • S&P, liberally

In a large mixing bowl, whisk together all vinaigrette ingredients. Add the kale and massage the dressing into the leaves, using your hands, for several minutes, until the kale has softened and is coated in dressing. Separate into bowls then top with diced apples and pecans. Enjoy!

The dressed kale keeps well in the fridge overnight, so feel free to make that part ahead and add the toppings when serving!

Dinner for Brian (Literally)

I’ve been in the fortunate circumstance of accommodating my absolute favorite ginger-haired brother for the summer. Outside of affording me the opportunity to actually perform what is the namesake of this blog (cooking dinner for that wonderful Brian, himself), the summer with my brother was a joyful, important experience that’s made me question further the subtitle above. Should I continue cooking from a Chicago (cough, gasp, Evanston) kitchen, or should I finally pursue that oft-wondered ideal of moving to the city from which I left, the state which houses this person himself? I think I have the answer in mind, (and I think many of whoever reads this knows, too), but I’ll segue unglamorously to a humble blog update instead.

I’ve certainly been cooking since last December, and I can’t pinpoint an exact reason why it so abruptly went undocumented. I have saved emails of food photos, recipes jotted in small notebooks, and words never-ending their stream throughout my head. Maybe I was frustrated by the bad lighting of winter. Or maybe I succumbed to that unenjoyable yet praised lifestyle of the “too busy.” It definitely felt like the latter, but what excuse is there to drop enjoyed hobbies? Anyways, I’m not sure how much of what went unwritten I’ll share now, but I do intend to pick up again this semi-daily and/or semi-weekly practice.

I do know that what I made this summer, most often dinners, but occasionally a breakfast or two, was delicious and very much enjoyed by my favorite recipe tester, Brian. He’s not overwhelmingly picky, so I can’t be sure that his endorsement qualifies these recipes as truly outstanding in any way, but now being able to definitively say these meals were raved about by not just myself but two people, I feel ever more confident in sharing. A lot of what I cooked was more meat-heavy than my standard fare, and I think I’m exhausting Trader Joe’s supply of boneless, skinless chicken thighs (seriously so good), but the novelty of new ingredients was more inspiring, really, and brought out a slew of untried but perfectly savory dinners. A few things worth noting and repeating: soft boiled eggs (forever, in everything), coconut-brothed curries, wilted greens, and mashed potatoes. Yes, mashed potatoes. Love them as they should be loved.

I’ll hopefully be back again soon with some of these recipes in print and picture. And to be transparent, I’m actually doing (omg) Whole 30 this month, for kicks really, so expect to see recipes which align with those dietary restrictions for a bit (but restrictions be damned; the food is good).

Goodbye to my brother and roommate, but hello, again, to the food which you inspire! (My dachshunds miss you).

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Thai Dumpling Kale Salad

It may be a week until Christmas, but I’m already kind of done with the cookies. Maybe it’s because everyone’s Christmas parties start back into the beginning of December, or maybe it’s because I joined some friends in a cookie-baking-bonanza that resulted in a whole tin of cookies to myself. I kind of don’t want at all mashed potatoes or stuffing or ham or holiday comfort food. I’ve been jamming on avocados and goat cheese, and I got into my mind that I could really go for an Asian salad. You know the kind, the Americanized version with ginger and wontons.

Well, of course, I didn’t have the ingredients for the giant salad of my imagination (which mirrored that of California Pizza Kitchen fairly precisely), but I did recognize I had a bunch of kale, a threatening-to-die carrot, and maybe some impromptu dressing ingredients. Out of a basic pantry and sad representation of a refrigerator… I created the best dinner I have had in months.

No, really. Admittedly, I freaking love the dumplings from Trader Joe’s. I used to buy the pork gyoza all the time, but somehow hadn’t in awhile… maybe it was a grad school thing. But I don’t eat pork or pigs anymore, and the frozen isle caught my eye (I’ve been excessively lazy recently). I saw Thai gyoza and thought I’d give it a try. The dumplings, while absolutely important, sit atop a salad so flavorful and balanced, that the whole (giant) bowl just satisfies every salty, tangy, savory craving you didn’t even know you had. I was not at all a believer in kale salads; I usually sauté my kale or put it in soups (read: why I had kale in the first place… soup season). But by massaging in the dressing, the kale becomes perfectly crunchy with just the right bite to offset the soft, fluffy little dumplings. I must say, the fresh ginger makes it. Which I totally would not have had if Thanksgiving had not been so recent, but please buy some if you’re making this salad tomorrow (as you should).

And, so long as you have this, or just a normal bottle of Sriracha, you are totally ready to go.

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Thai Dumpling Kale Salad

Serves 1 hungry person (per usual); easily multiplied

Thai Peanut Dressing

½ tbsp. canola (or other mild-flavored) oil

½ tbsp. tamari or soy sauce

1 tsp. natural peanut butter (peanuts and salt)

1 tsp brown sugar

½ tsp. sriracha

2 inch ginger knob, peeled and grated finely, juice included, stringy remnants discarded

Dash crushed red pepper flake

Salad and Dumplings

2 cups organic curly kale, chopped finely

1 golden carrot, peeled and minced/ chopped finely

½ tbsp. canola oil

5 Thai vegetable (or shrimp) gyoza/ dumplings (from Trader Joe’s)

2 tbsp. roasted and salted peanuts

Sriracha to serve

In a large serving bowl, whisk together the dressing ingredients. Add the kale and toss, with your hands, massaging the dressing into the kale leaves. Set aside while you prepare the remaining ingredients (time is your friend).

Use a food processor to finely chop the carrot (or your own determination and knife) and add to the greens. Toss.

In a small, non-stick sauté pan, prepare the gyoza according to package directions, which I’ll include here. Heat the oil over medium high heat and add the gyoza to the pan. Cook for 3-4 minutes until the bottom is browning. Add ¼ cup of water to the pan and quickly cover with a lid. Steam for 4-5 minutes until the gyoza are softened and cooked through.

Sprinkle the peanuts over the top of the salad and place the gyoza on top. Drizzle Sriracha over everything.

Absolutely dig in.

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Real question: should this blog be titled “Sriracha to serve”? Seems that’s at the end of every recipe. Also, I hate how dinner time in the winter means it’s pitch black outside. Try taking a good photo in your dark, poorly lit living room… sigh. At least dinner is good.

Chicken and Wild Rice Soup

I am not on my game. I somehow delayed posting again far longer than intended, as if Thanksgiving was 3 weeks long. Maybe it was, if you consider the brain space it occupied during those weeks. But here it is, December. The month of Christmas, the holiday season, whatever you’d like to call it. So I better catch up the pace.

Unfortunately, my brain is tired, and I haven’t even yet eaten. Sometimes dinner sounds like too much to do. As if the minutes laboring over the stove will exhaust me, I sit hungrily on the cough waiting for a bowl of mashed potatoes (that sounds really good) or pasta or cereal to appear before me, hot (or cold) and ready to go. Maybe even the spoon will elevate to my lips as in the Cheerios scene in the movie Matilda. If you don’t know what I’m talking about then please go watch Matilda promptly. I’ll hum the music- mmm hm mmm hm mm mm mmmm. No? The dancing? The flying, spiraling card deck? No? Bruce Bogtrotter? Someone feed me.

I made this soup a few weeks ago, in tribute to the dropping thermostat and the dog jackets now covering my closet floor. I’m already begrudging my winter coat, so a fair amount of time may have passed. In either case, I was really hell bent on replicating my favorite soup from Panera Bread, because it’s so creamy and delicious. I love creamy soup, but vegetably soup, and wild rice just makes it that much more interesting. I had tried making this soup once before, but failed in some capacity (I think I undercooked the rice), which left me forlorn. Maybe I couldn’t recreate the soup after all!? But winter encouraged me to try again. And this time: success!

This is a labor-intensive product, mostly in the manner of vegetable dicing and time spent waiting anxiously for rice to soften and stock to thicken. So, if you’re sitting on the couch at 7:30pm hungry, it’s not the time to make this. If, however, it’s blisteringly snowy, and an early Friday evening or even Sunday afternoon, go light your favorite fir-scented candle, turn on the Bing Crosby, and make this soup. I promise absolutely no disappointment. I actually promise joy. Holiday-laden, warm and comforting joy.

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Chicken and Wild Rice Soup

Serves 6-8

1 lb. boneless, skinless chicken thighs

1 tbsp. olive oil

2 tbsp. unsalted butter (I love Kerrygold)

4 carrots, diced

4 celery stalks, diced

1 yellow onion, diced

10 oz. mushrooms, sliced or diced

1 cup wild rice, uncooked

2 tsp. salt

2 tsp. fresh or dried thyme

1/2 tsp. oregano

1/2 tsp. rosemary

1/4 tsp. dried red pepper flakes

1/4 tsp. freshly-cracked black pepper

8 cups free-range chicken stock

1/2 cup milk, anything but skim

1/4 cup all-purpose flour

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit. Toss the chicken thighs in a thin coat of olive oil and place in a baking dish, something that allows even space but not too much. Bake at 425 until cooked through, approximately 30 minutes. Once cooked, remove from the oven and cool. Once cooled slightly, shred with a fork.

Heat a large stock pot over medium heat and melt the butter. Add the diced carrots, celery, and onion to the melted butter. Sauté until the vegetables have started to soften, about 10 minutes. To the softened vegetables, add the sliced (or diced!) mushrooms, and sauté for an additional 5 minutes, until the mushrooms are just beginning to release their juices.

Next, add the cup of wild rice as well as the spices and seasonings. Stir well so that everything is mixed. Add the chicken stock to the pot and bring the soup to a boil. Reduce the heat to low and simmer until the rice is soft and tender, about 45 minutes to 1 hour depending on the variety of rice.

In a mason jar, shake together the milk and flour (or whisk in a small bowl) to create a slurry. While actively whisking, add the thickening slurry to the soup. Allow the soup to simmer, stirring occasionally, until it has thickened to your liking. This takes approximately 5-10 minutes in most cases. Once thickened, add the shredded chicken to the pot and stir. Remove from heat and serve!

 

 

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Now go put on your music, make yourself some soup, and bring some crackers for dipping. If you finish the meal with hot chocolate, I applaud you.

Smashed Red Potatoes with Spiced Pumpkin Aioli

I haven’t blogged in awhile, and it’s definitely my fault. I keep thinking, “Oh, I’ll jot those recipes down on Saturday, when I have time.” And then it’s Sunday night, and I’m all ready to just crash in bed, when I remember that I didn’t spare a moment writing or photographing or even thinking about recipes and food. Well, that’s not true; I totally thought about food. But in any case, I guess I’ve been busy, and I haven’t been prioritizing. And I’m going to stop. Because in the meanwhile since my last post, Chicago has become an Icelandic tundra and nothing is nice outside anymore. So, back to the computer-world I go.

My dad yesterday informed me that it had been so long since I blogged that I could no longer share my pumpkin recipes. He knows well, I suppose, that I am all about pumpkin recipes. I mean, pumpkin has been an ingredient in my last few posts and cans of it still reside in my pantry. But, apparently, now that it’s cold, I’m supposed to blog about soup and rosemary and peppermint. But I say no Christmas, or even “holiday” (code for Christmas,) talk until Thanksgiving passes. Thanksgiving, which thoroughly accepts pumpkin and other squashes into its cornucopia, totally has not passed yet. And, in fact, I’m about as excited for Thanksgiving this year as I am Christmas, so holiday recipes be damned (for the time being. So sorry holiday recipes. I’m really looking forward to our time together. … Excuse me).

This dish is actually very Thanksgiving appropriate. And although I’d never dream of compromising the place of mashed potatoes at the table, a few smashed ones may sit along side nicely, especially if you’re into that renegade-untraditional-mix-up-the-Thanksgiving-table kind of meal. I’m not. At all. Tradition all the way. But regardless of circumstance, this is a really delicious, deceptively creative-appearing, super fast side dish. The potatoes are both creamy and crispy, the aioli both cooling and spicy, and the flavor just perfect. I inhaled this whole recipe as dinner myself, but it would probably be best served along with some protein or something. Or stuffing. With cranberry sauce. I am so excited for Thanksgiving.

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Smashed Red Potatoes with Spiced Pumpkin Aioli

Serves 3; easily doubled or multiplied

3 red potatoes, rinsed

~2 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil

1 tbsp. pumpkin puree

1 tbsp. olive oil mayonnaise (I use Hellman’s)

1 tsp. Sriracha

1/2 tsp. smoked paprika

Dash ( < 1/8 tsp) cayenne

Dash nutmeg

Dash thyme

Salt & pepper, to taste

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees Fahrenheit.

Fill a pot with cool water and drop in potatoes. Bring to a boil; then lower the temperature to maintain a slow boil. Boil the potatoes for 20 minutes, until cooked through and tender.

Place the potatoes on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper. Use a large measuring cup or bowl (something with a flat, firm bottom) to smash the red potato evenly. It may crumble a bit, but try to keep it together for the most part. Repeat with the remaining potatoes. Drizzle the potatoes with the olive oil. Season lightly with salt and pepper.

Bake the potatoes in the oven for 20 minutes, until the edges are crisping. Remove from the oven and set aside to cool slightly.

Mix together the pumpkin and remaining below ingredients until a consistent sauce is achieved. Use a fork or spoon to drizzle the aioli over the potatoes. Serve to awed guests everywhere.

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